Paper Mache Animals

Make this Frog with Paper Mache Clay

Paper Mache Frog

I spent my Christmas vacation making this frog out of newspaper, masking tape, pipe cleaners and paper mache clay. I show you how I did it below. If I did it again I’d use stronger wire in place of the pipe cleaners so I could get thinner fingers and toes, but that’s the only part of the process I’d change.

Real Frog

Real Frog

This is the real frog I used as my model. I’m sorry I don’t know what kind of frog it is.

You can clearly see that my version won’t win any awards at the science fair – but if you spend just a bit more effort than I did you could reproduce the colors and patterns with more accuracy. And with heavier wire instead of the fuzzy pipe cleaners, skinny toes would be possible, too. Wouldn’t it be fun to create a display of poison dart frogs in all their colorful varieties?

You can find photos of many different species of frogs by doing a Google Image search for frog photos. (I don’t know why there’s a mouse riding on one of those frogs…)

You’ll need some patience to make your frog. Like all small paper mache projects, you very quickly run out of dry areas to hold on to, so you’ll need to let your paper mache clay dry several times before you can continue to cover him with more clay. Also, a frog’s legs are perfectly engineered springs, and even when you imitate them with wire the legs tend to move around until the joints are encased in hardened clay. This makes them a bit more difficult to work with. This is definitely not an instant project, but if you like frogs, the results are worth the extra effort.

You could make the frog using traditional paper strips and paste, although the eyes will be more difficult to sculpt, and it will be more difficult to get the nice smooth froggy skin.

Step 1:

Crumple some newspaper into a frog-like shape. I used two balls–the larger one for the body and a smaller, flatter one for the head. You can see the basic shape, from the side, below. Since it gets covered in clay, you don’t need to worry about the weird bumps and valleys. The clay will cover them smoothly.

Crumpled Paper and Masking Tape Frog Shape

Crumpled Paper and Masking Tape Frog Shape

Step 2:

Tape the center of one long wire to the frog’s chest, just below the “chin.”

Adding the Front Legs

Adding the Front Legs

Step 3:

Now twist the ends of the wire to make the fingers. If you’re using pipe cleaners you’ll need another one for each arm so you’ll have enough for all fingers and some extra length to wind around the arm, strengthening it. Tape any extra wire to the frog’s tummy. It will be covered with paper mache clay, and the extra wire helps to anchor the arms and legs.

Making the Toes

Making the Toes

Step 4:

Do the same thing with the back legs, attaching them to the frog’s rear end.

Adding the Back Legs

Adding the Back Legs

Step 5:

Use aluminum foil to pad the legs and arms, and use masking tape to cover the toes.

Filling Out the Legs with Aluminum Foil

Filling Out the Legs with Aluminum Foil

Step 6:

Begin to cover the frog with your paper mache clay. Cover only as much as you can while holding a dry area of the frog. Then allow the clay to harden in a warm place, and finish the rest. You’ll need to support the legs and fingers while adding your clay to these areas. A very thin layer, 1/8 ” thick, will be enough. Smooth the clay as much as possible with the flat side of your knife while applying it to the frog.

Adding the Clay to the Frog

Adding the Clay to the Frog

Step 7.

After the frog has been completely covered and the clay is dry, go back and add a bump of clay for each eye. Look at the real frog’s photo at the top of this page to see how the eye should look. Let the eye harden completely in a warm place, then paint your frog with some home-made gesso:

  • 1 tablespoon of joint compound
  • 1 teaspoon of white glue.

When the gesso is dry, sand your frog, if needed. I found an interesting product at the hardware store this week that helps in sanding small, rounded areas like frog legs, called drywall sanding screen. You can cut the screen with an old pair of scissors and use it like a flexible file. Ordinary sandpaper works just fine, too.

Sanding the Frog

Sanding the Frog

Step 8:

This type of frog has bumps on his back. I used a technique more commonly used by cake decorators: Put some of your home-made gesso (see above) in a small plastic bag and cut off one of the points. Then squeeze small dots of gesso onto your frog’s back, and allow it to dry. Then sand off the little points, and you’ve got some nice frog bumps.

Frog Bumps

Frog Bumps

Step 9:

The final step, of course, is to paint your frog. I tried to come reasonably close to the patterns and colors of the real frog I used as a model, but I missed a few spots.

Frog, Painted

Frog, Painted

If you make a frog yourself, please let us see how he turns out.

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About the author

Jonni Good

I'm a sculptor, author, gardener, and grandma. When I'm not catering to the needs of my obnoxious cat, I make videos, create stuff, and play around with paper mache. I'm also the author of several highly-rated books on paper mache. You'll find them in the sidebar, and on amazon.com

45 Comments

  • My 10 year old has to make are 3 D frog for a school project. I am not crafty or creative so I want to thank you for posting your instructions. We will be working on the frog this weekend. Thank you again!

      • Hi, uhmm what kind of wire did you use? Pls. Reply ASAP, thankyou!! This paper mache frog perfectly fits my science fair project thanks!!

        • The legs and arms were made with pipe cleaner wire, but if I made this again I’d probably use armature wire or some other light, easily bent wire. The fuzz on the pipe cleaners was a little irritating. So basically, use any wire you happen to have lying around the house.

  • He needs to have it finished by March 27. Is that enough time? What happens to the clay if there is no linseed oil in it?? Should I replace it with something else or try and find another medium?

    Thank you.

  • Hi
    My 6 year old son has to make a Suriname Horned frog for his school project. In the comments above you said not to use this with small children. Is this because you’re afraid they will eat it or something else?

    This seems like such a great solution to our conundrum. Please let me know.

    Thank you!!
    Rachel

    • The eating is part of the problem – and the linseed oil does contain chemicals. However, I’ve also found that many small children don’t have the dexterity to handle the knife and spread the pm clay. The same thing seems to be true with the traditional paper strips and paste, too – the kids I’ve seen trying it have a really hard time. However, that doesn’t mean that your son wouldn’t be able to do it just fine. Just be sure to leave out the linseed oil. When does he need to have it finished?

  • Have just found your web site, i have done lots of craft things with my scroll saw ,and have sold them at craft markets in England where im from , but now iv found your site and your utube posting theres no stopping me im off down to my local d.i.y store for supplies and im away , THANK YOU for such a great site cant wait to get started

  • The frog looks really good! I’ve been working on a giraffe for quite a while now using newspaper and elmers glue as paste. I just read your Paper mache clay recepe and just had a quick question about it..

    Is the paper Mache clay safe to use? Does it have any chemicals that can harm you?

    I’m just asking because I really want to try paper Mache clay, it looks perfect for what i’m trying to do.

    Thank You.

    • A few of the products used to make the clay are not edible, and you should definitely read the label. Then make up your own mind about how safe they are. I do assume you don’t intend to eat the stuff, so it should be fine.

      The ingredient that many people are concerned about is the boiled linseed oil, because it contains chemical drying agents. However, you can easily use glycerin instead, which is perfectly safe. If you’re worried about chemicals, that’s definitely what I’d advise. And don’t sand the clay without a mask – that’s common practice whenever you create a fine dust in the air, to keep it out of your lungs.

      • Thank you for your response! And yes this does help a lot… And no i’m not planning on eating the paper mache clay, just wanted to double check with you.. It is always good to be safe about it on your own!

        Thank you again

  • Hi Jonni,
    I wanted to send this along in case anyone else wants less of your papier mache clay recipe and doesn’t want to do the math. It is for 20% (1/5) of your recipe. My husband did the math on an Excel sheet and it worked out perfectly.

    TP 1/4C
    Glue 2.3 Tbsp
    Joint Compound 3.2Tbsp
    Flour 1.5 Tsp
    Oil <1/2 Tsp

    Thanks, Terra

    • Excellent! thank you so much for sharing your frog with us, as well as the steps along the way. I like your choice of frog – much more colorful than mine.

    • Terra – I love your frog – I did not know there were brilliant blue frogs – beautiful!

  • Hello,
    You have a wonderful website.
    My son is 10 years old and has to make an owl for his school project.
    It needs to be life size ( 18 inches). Do you think making it out of your paper mache clay would work well? He needs to first make the general shape out of paper and masking tape? Also wire?
    Thank you for your help,
    Manon

    • Hi Manon,

      The clay would be perfect for your son’s owl. He can texture the thin layer of paper mache clay when he applies it, so it looks like feathers. That would be really hard with paper strips and paste. The big eyes would be easier, too.

      For something that size, no wire is needed. He can make a form out of crumpled paper and masking tape. Make sure the form is solid, and he uses lots of tape. I seem to remember owls being somewhat football-shaped, but I obviously haven’t looked lately. He’ll need to cut a piece of cardboard for the bottom, and tape the crumpled paper form to it so he has a flat bottom on his sculpture. The beak and any tail feathers can be cut out of cardboard and taped on. Since only one layer of clay is needed, the project should go a lot faster than it would with paper strips and paste, and there’s no mess.

      Please let us see your son’s owl when it’s done.

    • Great! That’s exactly how I imagined people using this tutorial when I made it. Good luck with your project, and please let us see it when it’s done.

  • Do you know the names of the commerical products that are similar?, im not to crafty with making things.

    • I’ve heard about a product called “Paper Clay,” and there are products called “instant paper mache.” I don’t know how well these products work, since I prefer to make my own–I suggest that you ask the clerk at the art store for the product they recommend.

      • hi, I would like to have the information on how to make your own mache clay thank you also I like to know about how to smooth and pick up details on my project that Iam trying to work on. its not coming out right I mix plaster to mache plup and its not tackey I have to work fast befor it start to harding. that I couldn’t be able pick up and press in the mold like flowers or diffren’t thing

  • Have you ever tried full scale large sculptures that could be used on the exterior.I am researching what finishes can be used to save the piece from the rain and snow etc. PS I have a real problem using poly
    prop products. I think you are the best and put together a very professional presentation. Karen Baker

  • Thank you so much for this great tutorial. I am an art teacher and am now making 6O similar frogs with my pupils. (15yr olds) They love it . I will send some pics when they’re ready. Question : how long can you store the pulp for (white glue, flour, joint compound, linseed oil, toiletroll recipe) Would it keep long in a plastic bag ?

    • 60 frogs! I definitely want to see that. What a great project.

      The paper mache clay will store quite well if you keep it from drying out. A plastic bag would be a perfect place to keep it. If you let it sit for a week or so you’ll need to mix it up a bit, since the bottom area will be wetter than the top — but you could do that easily by kneading the clay inside the bag.

      Traditional paper mache pulp will mold quickly, but fungi don’t seem to like the glue and joint compound, so I have not yet seen any mold appear on my clay. However, I make a lot of sculptures, so it doesn’t last very long before it’s used up. Just remember that anything that won’t support the growth of fungi should not be eaten by humans, either, even if the clay does look like cookie dough! Your 15-year old students won’t have a problem with that, but I don’t think this would be a good art material for younger kids.

      Please do send those photos. I’ll put them up on a new post so the world can see how they turned out.

  • Yes, Joey–you’re absolutely right. Mystery solved. The photo I found on istockphoto.com is a wood frog, and there’s a great article about them (including the freezing bit) on Wikipedia:

    “Similarly to other northern frogs that hibernate close to the surface in soil and/or leaf litter, wood frogs can tolerate the freezing of their blood and other tissues.”

    Froggy antifreeze. What will nature think of next?

    • Yes, it’s from istockphoto.com, a great place to buy royalty-free photos to use for models–no worries about infringing on copyrights. Unfortunately, they aren’t very good with labels…

      • I think it is a wood frog, if I remember right? I would have to look up his 35 dollar name, but they are from up north. Only reason I remember them, is the black mask and the fact they can be frozen and survive. Weird stuff that sticks with you huh?
        Very nice likeness in the sculpture. I’m envious of your finishes!

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